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Meeting the Millennials on tour with Adore Delano

Dragpunk Tour Diary: The Kids Are Alright; Meeting the Millennials on tour with Adore Delano.

With great pleasure and enjoyment My last week and a half has been spent supporting Adore Delano’s Whatever Tour across seven cities in the UK, along with my Birmingham drag family, Dragpunk. This presented many challenges, not least of all how do we, as lipsync artists create a show that fits with Adore’s live singing and rock band? We are a collective of subversive, punk drag queens. Born and raised in dark murky basements of Birmingham’s underground, 18+ nightlife venues – how do we cater for a 14+ audience there for the main act, not us the support?

So we set about planning. Making a full show of our 35 minute set. Background music, microphone time, and mixes and looks that serve all that Dragpunk is about. We wanted to provide a full show, and most of all make a statement. The reaction was entirely surprising and revealing about the ‘state of the youth’.

For us drag mixes entertainment with queer activism – the megaphone that we can use to talk about queer and gender identities, to challenge the lurking insipid homophobia, transphobia and racism within the LGBTQ community and outside of it. Dragpunk’s Amber Cadaverous, whose gender is only relevant for clarity, is a cisgender woman. Her whole performance within our set was an explosion of songs about being precisely that – female. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun. It’s A Woman’s World. Man I Feel Like A Woman. Interspersed with relevant soundbites, it all wrapped up with Amber picking up the mic and giving a speech telling this young audience that their existence is not second to anyone else’s. It’s more than okay to be female.

My own number, a lipsync featuring Jinkx Monsoon’s beautiful rendition of Radiohead’s Creep, finished with a similar moment on the mic that to be strange, unusual – weird even – is absolutely okay too. Pursue that difference, be kind, open, learn, and you may find that happiness, confidence, and self esteem are earned in a world that actively resists the unorthodox.

After the first opening night in at the Manchester Academy, it became quite clear that we left an impression. Over the course of the tour it became all the more clear that all of the Dragrace fangirls and fanboys, the hundreds each night making up the audiences, amounting to thousands over the tour, who were there for their love of Adore Delano, actually just love drag and difference. Adore represents a punk brand, latched onto by her fans whose love and devotion to her was strong and deep to say the least. Yet these fanboys and fangirls, often dismissed for not supporting ‘local’ drag were there to have fun, and to spend the little money they had on one awesome drag experience. Many have no outlets to local drag or queer nightlife for they do not live in the big cities or are simply not older enough. With Adore Delano, her band, and what we provided was that access to the local drag, to UK drag, and what it can stand for.

After each set we were approached for photos, hellos, and thanks for our drag and message. Our personal and Dragpunk social medias exploded. Tired, eating far too many crisps, whilst travelling between cities we spenthour after hour, quite happily, responding to floods of DMs, comments and tags. Four individuals from Birmingham with paint and fabric strewn about them, under the name of Dragpunk, were now being thanked by these young people for inspiring them with our drag and for telling them that it’s okay to be yourself. And often for simply saying hello to them in person. Stories about people’s own struggles, about how they felt some validation at our show, became the norm. Some survived the Manchester bombing. other’s survived self harm, chronic depression, and crippling loneliness. These are not fads, these are not over-sensitivities. These are not ‘snowflakes’. It was and is still immensely humbling. We did not plan it to be this way. It helped that our drag, our performances, and our mixes were decent, for without them the message may not have reached. Most of all it helped that through entertainment, a shining message landed. No lecturing, no talking down, we spoke sincerely without realising that it would resonate. You know you have successfully penetrated gay youth culture when you receive such an outpouring of love from fans via popular LGBT messenger app and online brothel Grindr.

What does this mean, about this young generation so easily dismissed disparagingly as ‘millenials’, as ‘snowflakes’, who often to give meaning to their fandom by self-identify as ‘stans’ on that notorious hotbed of Twitter? (Stan essentially being a super fan, named I am told after Eminem’s early classic Stan, about an overzealous fan). Well it seems that they are not actually being engaged. Low and behold, society is failing them. All we saw was passion, and some of the most fun and positive individuals around. Are we really throwing out a whole young generation, again? Is it because they have online platforms to comment and criticise the corrupt world around them? That because some, just a few, take it too far? These audiences were a cross-section of an open queer-minded youth, who were happy to be happy given the chance. Twitter is their main outlet in a world where adults – as with in every era of our history – puts down the youth. When we provided a message of empowerment, they lapped it up. We sent some very clear messages in our show, as Adore did, about sticking two fingers up to misogyny, trying to fit in, and assimilation into a straight-laced society. Where else are people providing these messages and actually living them?

To say the least, it was refreshing and if we can see the potential of engagement, then others can. The key is understanding rather than the smug chastising, condescension of the follies of youth that too many older people’s minds can succumb to. We felt empowered and emboldened that drag is activism, and that as Dragpunk, we have a statement to make. We hope that others take it on board to pursue as well.

 

Paul Aleksandr, the author of this article is one quarter of Birmingham’s most prolific drag collective, the indescribable drag punk. He blurs the line of gender subtly, and draws influences from goth and alternative culture, horror films, and societies boogeymen and creeps. His first language is Russian and his hobbies include birdwatching, amateur abortionism, and tasteful nude self portraiture. You can find him on Facebook as Paul Aleksandr or on instagram at @paul_aleksandr.

If you’re attending Birmingham Pride this weekend, Dragpunk’s legendary Emo Party I’m Not Ok Will be opening the future stage at 2:30. If you’re a fan of the weird and wonderful, get on down.

You can keep up to date with his work as well as tour dates and parties being thrown by the Dragpunk collective on Facebook or via @dragpunk on instagram and Drag_Punk on Twitter. 

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Gig Review: Drenge & Kagoule @ Gorilla MCR

They’ve been missing in action for three years, but tonight is the night, the grand re-opening of Drenge. For those unfortunate enough not to have experienced Drenge before, Drenge are, or rather were a two-piece alternative outfit that tore through the airwaves and the ear canals of listeners with snarling tunes like ‘Bloodsport’ and ‘We Can Do What We Want’. Think the bastard child of ‘Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not’ era Arctic Monkeys and Grunge Legends Mudhoney gestated in the womb of Courtney Love. After a three-year-long hiatus, the Loveless brothers have returned now decked out with a fancy new bassist and have even made themselves a four-piece. They’ve set out on an international Grand re-opening tour, and on Wednesday last week they played a show to a sold out Gorilla, packed out to the rafters.

100! @drengedrenge killing it at a sold out @thisisgorilla 📸

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Kagoule.

Opening for them tonight is Kagoule, a Nottingham born three-piece made up of Cai, Lucy and Lawrence. I really can’t express enough how perfect the band were for this slot. On too many occasions supporting bands can feel futile in their attempts to warm up the crowd or even interest them, with Kagoule it was quite the opposite. Singer and Guitarist Cai looks like an albino 80’s pop singer, his guitar jangles from alt-pop jams into Nirvana-esque solos and parts in a strangely transitional and seemly manner. He displays a shyness that is present in the lyrics and music, yet is alleviated from when he’s in the moment playing. The band’s second singer and bass player, Lucy, offers a much wider range of sound vocally. She weaves a distinct essence of Riot Grrrl into the enigmatic tapestry that is this band. Spacing out into her groovy yet still effortlessly grungy Bass, rocking out with her fishbowl earnings and her Beth Ditto haircut.

Get it grrrrrl @kagouletheband the other night supporting @drengedrenge

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Drummers can often be ignored when evaluating any band, in this case though, that mistake simply cannot be made. Lawrence, the band’s drummer is what holds the entire surreal experience that is Kagoule together. Having two lead musicians and vocalists, who share songs but are perfectly comfortable to compete as opposed to harmonising whilst also employing genre moulding and switches can lead to some chaotic music. Lawrence’s playing is just so damn tight that he holds the band together amazingly, and really allows his partners to shine. The product is a distinctly funky brand of alternative rock, equal parts with a closest living relative in X-Ray Spex. Expect Pixies vibes, 80’s fashion and grooves if you run into this outfit on the road, if they sound up your street, give them a listen here.

Drenge.

With the gauntlet laid down by their talented opening act, the room filled up to the rafters as Drenge burst onto the stage to make their big return. After cutting a ceremonial red ribbon to mark the momentous occasion, they wasted no time in getting to the nitty gritty. Blazing through a new track; Bonfire, before declining into classic Face Like a Skull. A note for Drenge fans is that live they are much heavier than on the record. It really highlights the tidy production values employed on their recorded material. Live they owe more to Johnny Rotten than indie, they would do just fine playing next to bands like Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes. Their mastery over this acidic vitriol that sounds the way blood from a busted lip tastes is what sets them apart from bands like Blossoms and Slaves, they have something genuine that these two bands fail to replicate.

A crowd that was mild mannered when jamming to the groovy, bass and drum driven sounds of Kagoule is no more. Security struggle to stop crowd-surfers and several people light up. New offerings are received well and fans scream back at the band despite not knowing a word of the song. Loveless breaks into prophetic punk-poet ramblings and lyrics range from relationships to life philosophies and politics. Their set is accompanied by a lot of on-stage antics, including a lovely happy birthday song for one of their members featuring the iconic caterpillar cake and a gorgeous interpersonal encore

Grunge is a dirty word in many alternative scenes, for two contradicting reasons. Grunge is a sound that was perfected and a bubble frozen in time, it was a cultural phenomena that has lived and died, and some accuse the revisionists of the grunge emo revival we are seeing as beating the corpse with a stick. Also, Grunge had some of the greatest alternative rock musicians of all time, with names like Kurt Cobain, Dave Grohl, Kat Bjelland and Eddie Veder in the mix, those can be some big shoes to fill. Speaking of big shoes, Drenge are playing a stage that has been touched by several Grunge legends, including Babe’s in Toyland, Jack Off Jill, Mudhoney and Melvins. Drenge manage this triumphantly however, because instead of trying, they simply say, this isn’t grunge, this is Drenge. Their patent combination of American and British alternative cultures allows them to retain a clear and distinct identity whilst blowing the crowd away with deep mosh pits and blistering wails. They end their initial set on an energy high, but are immediately dragged back on for an encore, where they give the crowd a soft touch of intimacy their set lacked.

 

To conclude, Drenge rock hard, harder than their recorded music would ever tell you. The boys are funny, dynamic and sure of who they are, and it shines through. They were a pleasure to watch and should be an idol for any musician hoping to ride the wave of the grunge revival on how to create your own thing and run with it. Mothers, lock up your labour MPs, because they’re back and they’re not going anywhere. They’ve released a single to accompany them on this tour, you can give it a peek without a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday after it right here.

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Membranes

GIG REVIEW: Membranes and Friends @ O2 Ritz

Not even the warmest day of the year so far can deter the hardy, black-clad horde of mature post-punkers from descending on the Ritz for this blistering all-dayer held by legendary Mancunian punk rockers. Billed as Membranes & Friends, there’s a virtually guaranteed swathe of talent on display, going off the band’s own esoteric influences, as well as the sense of musical community fostered by frontman John Robb, cultural commentator and Louder Than War founder.

Punk’s Best and Brightest From All Across the Spectrum.

Perfectly willing to work up more of a sweat beyond that of the heat, the most intrepid gig-goers are treated to the 4.25 kick-off of upstart Norwich duo Sink Ya Teeth, who in a dual bass-and-drum-sampler setup deliver ominously throbbing beats and sparse, hypnotic disco with a sultry confidence, in a pleasingly palatable opener for the night of crashing noise to follow. Following this is the jerky post-punk of LIINES, emerging figures of the local indie and alternative scene – frontwoman Zoe McVeigh at one point excitedly reminisces of her younger nights spent in the very same venue – who burst into action with a fiery passion. The group have their fair share of followers in tonight, and they no doubt meet their expectations with relentlessly driving, robotic rhythms and disaffected, claustrophobic wails.

Next, One Sided Horse take the stage to relatively minimal pre-existing awareness, switching gears to a dark, heaving folk rock. Helmed by Evil Blizzard member Mark Whiteside, this more thoughtful side to his experimental sludge antics showcases energetic, stomping rhythms and swirling textures alongside plaintive vocal melodies and a hard-edged, gothic grit; onstage, he explains his band comprises members of indie icons Embrace, which goes a way to explain their humbly commanding onstage presence.

Next up are surreal, recently-reformed punk heroes The Cravats create an even more enigmatic scene before even playing any music, with The Shend (vocals) cutting an imposing bowler-hatted figure, as well as a man onstage whose job seems to be to sit and read the paper while eating a banana. After some brief ‘saxophone issues’, the band work a dissonant grumbling into thumping, disjointed rhythms and blood-pumping garage-punk, glowering over their enraptured audience while repeating absurdist mantras in a funhouse vocal style.

In arguably the most bizarre spectacle of the evening, 4-bass lunatics Evil Blizzard shuffle onto the stage all pig masks and blood-stained surgical garb, and are greeted by a wave of flicked up V-signs in what I can only assume is some in-joke, as the crowd seems genuinely captivated – and with good reason. Parcelling out deeply-burrowing sludge beats into a stomping drone and a deathrock jig, the intense low-end layering pushes through any ridiculousness to a crushing effect, earning the right to their maniacal onstage strutting and sardonic banter.

After hardly any time at all, The Lovely Eggs explode into life with their deliciously thick dual drums-and-guitar attack, clearly giddy at the prospect of playing (as well as having a night off – “Mum’s babysitting tonight,” guitarist and vocalist Holly Ross wryly informs the crowd). The songs’ sunny melodies, relatively simple arrangements and unrestrained psych freakouts nudge the audience into their favour, with a number singing along joyously – the reviewer included.

The Membranes.

Lastly, however, it’s the irrepressible Membranes who dole out the most severe, yet crowd-pleasing sonic punishment; world-ending noise metal riffs form a menacing swagger and glorious space-rock crescendos, matched by the otherworldly BIMM Choir, whose artistic contributions of a rich, ominous chanting help create an apocalyptic, room-filling cacophony. Robb’s demented, commanding rasp complements his wild-eyed demeanour, while keeping any shapeless noise anchored by gravelly bass-lines. It’s a fundamentally engaging performance – the choir adds a sonorous new dimension, turning the sepia-toned lilt of older track Myths and Legends into something more upbeat and accessible – and serves as a fitting capper for a night of such wide-ranging musical ingenuity.

Membranes have come a long way since immigrating from Blackpool to Manchester in the 80’s to release Crack House on the legendary record label criminal damage. What membranes present today is something rare, a matured punk rock that has aged gracefully. Something that icons like John Lyndon, Darby Crash even Henry Rollins to an extent, could not deliver. From lighting fires outside of HMV to the esoteric, metallic activism infused product they’re delivering today with the assistance of a choir.

 

Patrick Preston

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24 Years of Love, Examining the legacy of Hole on modern music.

Celebrity Skin

‘Hole is a band, Courtney Love is a soap opera’ the famous headline of Rolling Stone magazine read in August 1995. This headline referred to the fact that the legend of Hole is somewhat eclipsed by the personal affairs of its lead singer, the unbreakable Courtney Love. To celebrate 24 years since the release of Hole’s iconic sophomore album Live Through This, we’re going to discuss the album’s influence on modern music. We’ve also put together a playlist of the contemporary artists inspired by the amazing record, give it a listen below.

Over the past twenty years, Hole’s legacy has mostly been shat on from great heights by the male-dominated world of rock. Love’s actions as both a drug addict and a mentally unwell person in the spotlight overshadowed her band’s musical significance. To examine how misogyny plays into this situation, one only has to look at her celebrated husband, Kurt Cobain. Although he killed himself with a drug-addicted wife and a small child, Cobain is greatly regarded as a hero and granted a somewhat messiah-like status in culture. Whereas Courtney is seen as a blood-sucking succubus, for doing little more than daring to stay alive as opposed to jumping on his funeral pyre in tribute.

Some even suggest the reason for Hole’s outstanding musical contributions is that Kurt “ghostwrote” Hole’s Live Through This. The misogynists who make this statement simply cannot fathom that a woman, never-mind a woman who acts so outrageously, could create such a perfect mixture of punk-rock acidity infused with sweet waves of pop melody. They would rather believe a loud, raucous woman to be a thief, or even worse a murderer, than as someone who’s anything more than a “Junkie whore”.

Despite the cultural whitewashing of Hole’s significance stemming from fear of strong women and the questionable personal actions of lead singer Love, the huge significance of Live Through This – a feminist punk rock album – on modern rock and even mainstream pop music is astounding. Females who are taking over the pop industry or fulfilling Courtney Love’s wish that ‘Every girl in the world would pick up a guitar and start screaming’ are joined by a battalion of rule-breaking queer men and women alike.

Bands that are loud and impossible to ignore and have the rebellious and unwavering spirit of Hole at heart – disavowing the patriarchal sentence placed on Hole to become lost in history at every turn. To state my opinions on the sexist treatment of Hole’s legacy would be one thing, but – instead – let’s explore the sheer amount of significant contemporary artists from all genres affected by that legacy. That’s right, I brought receipts.

Rockstar

Upcoming bands in the rock world now stink of Hole. White Lung, a band headed by Vice Journalist Mish Barber are particularly vocal about Hole being a source of inspiration. “When I first fell in love with Live Through This, I read Love’s lyrics over and over, Not only did Hole and Courtney Love heavily influence me as a teenager, but Love herself introduced me to many bands I would never have found without her guidance. The woman was always throwing down references and other bands, name-dropping constantly, but she gave me a map.”.

The teachings of saint Courtney have not escaped some of rock’s heavyweights as well. UK Alt-rock giants Garbage’s 2001 Record ‘Beautiful Garbage’ is named after a quote from Hole’s 1998 mega-hit, Celebrity Skin. A dingy, begrimed, rock song about the cult of Hollywood hidden behind a snarling eye-roll of pop overtures. It lies somewhere closer to the bastard child of Fleetwood Mac and Blink-182 than it does Nirvana. Brody Dalle of the Distillers is another example and is probably the artist who owe’s the most to the first lady of grunge – Brody’s ‘Signature growl’ is her version of a vocal technique that Courtney coined.

Inspiring women who have become icons themselves, the girl-rockers of today also pay homage to their virulent mother. Upcoming superstars from bands like Pale Waves, Dilly Dally and Skating Polly all look like clones of each other because they’re all drawing inspiration from the ‘Kinderwhore’ fashion trend coined by Love. Every time you see an angry goth-girl in a Wednesday Addams dress and Dr Martens, or a girl with bangs chain-smoking in a leopard print fur coat, it’s down to the girl with the most cake. The alt-rock grrl band Honeyblood suspiciously share a name with a lyrics from Hole’s ‘Gutless’.

Courtney acting as a guide for women to traverse the male-dominated world of rage and rock music is a common theme in the words of her proteges. Love acts as a world-shattering hammer for suburban teenage girls whose lives don’t add up. It doesn’t matter if they like girls, if their teeth are fucked up or the boy that they like is a jerk to them, Courtney introduces girls who’ve spent their whole childhood’s being told what they’re not allowed to do to the world of feminist defiance. She shouldn’t be alive, never mind stood here on stage, screaming her vocal chords out. She teaches how to subvert gender through combining hyper-femininity and masculinity, a sort of anti-drag concoction that does not require women to give up their femininity – an early culturally visible precursor of drag being performed by CIS women.

“I Am Not A Woman, I Am A Force Of Nature”

One of the key things that made Hole’s work so unique in the boys club of grunge, is that it was addressed directly to women. Live Through This is a grungy, balls-out record tied up with a pretty pink bow the boys were afraid to touch lest they catch “cooties”. The record is littered with common (yet wildly unspoken) topics including menstrual themes, references to milk, rape, childbearing, self-image and eating disorders. Understandably, many of the musicians influenced by Hole’s music are strong women.

One Major example comes in Lana Del Ray who not only invited Courtney on a co-tour of the US with her, but was also interviewed by Love for the feature piece in the April 2017 addition Dazed. The Ultra-violence singer couldn’t be more Love’s polar-opposite in terms of sonics. A smooth, almost ethereal, jazz-inspired hum compared to Courtney’s vitriolic L.A Punk howls. But the singer said she was deeply influenced by her and ‘Honoured’ to call her a friend. In terms of aesthetics and lyrical themes, Lana owes a lot to Courtney, who opened the door to exploring American femininity in fucked up ways, something Lana Excels at.

In the same vein, other contemporary pop artists who may not sound similar to Courtney but acknowledge her influence on their artistry include: Charli XCX, Lorde, St Vincent, Marina and the Diamonds, Tove Lo, Sky Ferreira and Avril Lavigne. There you go Love-haters – IMAGINE LIVING IN A WORLD WITHOUT SK8TR BOI. But seriously, the blood Courtney shed throughout the nineties has seeped so deeply into the fabric of pop-culture whilst the male-dominated industry tried to hide the stain – if you look for it, and god forbid let women talk about what inspires them, it’s really not that hard to find.

The aesthetics that Marina and The Diamonds employ are directly descended from that of which Hole was creating during the Live Through This era, diluted through sugary-sweet pop creating a more palatable result for the mass audience. For example, the video for Marina and The Diamonds ‘Primadonna’ couldn’t look more like an Alice in Wonderland fantasy version of the dingy hell-scape enveloped by a swarm of blossoms in the video for Hole’s ‘Violet’ if it tried. Singer and songwriter extraordinaire Sia even fronted Hole on a recent reunion to celebrate the release of drummer Patty Shemel’s film ‘Hit So Hard’

Broke for Credit In the Straight World

Speaking of Drag, Courtney is down with the gays! Shocker. After Fleeing America as a teenager to go live with her dad in the UK, Courtney soon stayed with members of the Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen in Liverpool where she worked in a gay club and “Learned how to be a rock star”. Yes, her life is that interesting – if you haven’t watched her VH1 behind the music yet, what is wrong with you. LGBT people appropriated Hole’s music as it spoke to the feminine rage and ‘otherness’ they were feeling – at the time, it was also one of the only Alternative Rock bands with openly queer members. This and Love’s tenure in Lily Savage’s School For Girls may explain one of the reasons she was featured as a guest judge on last weeks episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Speaking of, Ru Paul’s Drag Race has birthed a number of significant artists – such as Sharon Needles and Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 – who have both made references to their love of Love before; from drawing on her fashion aesthetics, to rap verses about Smashing pumpkins leading into a call for equal wages for women. But the place where her influence can really be seen is in the music of Adore Delano, the most successful of drag race alumni in a musical perspective. Her Recent Album ‘Whatever’ has a more mature, developed sound, and draws more from Hole’s scuzzy roots than ever. Here’s her ummm … ‘creative’ Cover of one such Hole song.

In the LGBT world, Courtney also has a protege in Semi Precious Weapons frontman, and songwriting genius, Justin Tranter. Justin gushed over the chance to meet his idol and work with her on some new music for both of their respective new projects. Tranter is responsible for writing songs for everyone from Britney Spears and Justin Bieber to Fall Out Boy and Linkin Park. A further example of how, through the devotion of isolated queer boys who listened to ‘Violet’ for the first time and turned their pain for being weird into rage, Love’s DNA has infiltrated so much of our culture from the most recent Justin Bieber Record to the songs of her once rival, Gwen Steffani.

Rap-Metal poet and prophet Otep Shamaya, a gender-bending unapologetic lesbian, stated ‘Without the first Hole Album there would be NO Otep albums’ in response to corrosive gender-based hate spewed at Love upon the release of Kurt Cobain Biopic, ‘Montage of Heck’. Otep also produced a cover of Nirvana’s breed, a cover that sounds suspiciously like Cobain’s Widow herself, creating a truly jarring sonic experience.

When discussing queer music it would be irresponsible to ignore the new wave of queer musicians. Rising pop artisan Macy Rodman describes herself as “The Trans Pop Courtney Love”. Boundary-pushing pop-rapper and femininity subverter GIRLI also takes political and stylistic influence from the walking study in demonology. (Side note – apparently Courtney and Brooke Candy are so close that they went on holiday to Venice together?)

Mine Is Forever.

To conclude, no matter how much power the patriarchal system music and culture exist in has, Love has proved time and time again that her work is a burning napalm fire of bile and vitriol that cannot be stopped from connecting with people. Teenage girls and gay boys who don’t even know how angry they truly are, see the dancing flames and join together – empowered – to smash shit up.

With industry leaders Tranter, Charlie XCX and Sia spreading the word of Hole alongside future stars like Goth-Pop band Pale Waves & Trip Hop artist Tricky, it seems that as the patriarchal grip on society slips and the generation of revolution reaches adulthood, Love may finally find herself immortalised as the problematic genius she truly is. Sorry, KurtCobainFan420 but no amount of comments or documentaries about how she’s a murderer who didn’t write her own songs is going to change that.

 

 

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